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Cheaters: Inside the hidden world of IT certification fraud

Industry launches counterattack using forensics, biometrics, analytics to weed out cert cheats

By Linda Musthaler, Network World
September 01, 2008 12:11 AM ET

Network World - For the first time ever, companies that develop and administer IT certification exams are working together to combat a problem that has largely been swept under the rug for years: certification fraud.

A group of IT hardware and software vendors, independent certifying agencies, test centers and others have formed the IT Certification Council (ITCC). The goal is to share knowledge and resources to combat and prevent fraud, which is threatening to undermine the value of IT certification. (See Musthaler's opinion on how cert cheating can ruin your career.)

ITCC chairman Bill Horzempa, who is also director of Global Certification and Partner Education Development for HP, says, "Most of the members of this council have talked privately with one another about the cheating problem. We realized that this isn't just an HP problem, or a Cisco or Microsoft problem. Certification cheating affects the vendors, yes, but it also hurts individual IT professionals and the companies that employ or contract them. In effect, cheating creates a loss of confidence in the ability of the IT profession to solve business problems."

What is certification fraud?
“Certification fraud is any act, malicious or not, that is intended to help an exam candidate pass a certification exam using methods that violate vendor security policies.” This includes acts perpetrated by certification candidates and corrupt test center proctors, as well as by the individuals and organizations that post and sell ill-gotten test materials on the Web.
Julieann Scalisi, Managing Director of Citrix Education

Click to see: definition of certification fraud

Chuck Cooper, ITCC vice chairman and program director, IBM Certification Programs Skills Enablement, Systems and Technology Group, calls certification fraud "an annoying pain that always seems to be there. It's a cloud hanging over us. It doesn't go away on its own."

Indeed, fraud in the IT certification industry is nothing new; the problem has been around for years. However, new techniques for analyzing test scores are making it easier to evaluate the scope of the problem. For example, test security company Caveon estimates that 15% to 25% of IT certification exams show some aberration, which can be an indication of cheating.

Ignoring the problem has only allowed it to get worse. All one has to do is Google the search term "MCSE study aids" and thousands of sites pop up where a student can purchase so-called test preparation materials – most of which are not authorized or recommended by Microsoft, the owner of the MCSE certification.

Though the documents are marketed as "study materials," the information often consists of stolen test questions and answers. Of course, Microsoft isn't the only company whose materials have been compromised. Content for virtually any IT certification exam can be found online.

The impact of certification fraud

Certification cheating has ramifications for everyone, including the individuals who pursue certification; the employers who hire them; the companies that contract for IT solutions and services; the IT vendors who manufacture and sell IT products and solutions; the certifying companies and agencies; and more broadly, the general public.

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